Single-chip radio software bridges Bluetooth and Zigbee

Single-chip radio software bridges Bluetooth and Zigbee

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Silicon Labs’ multiprotocol wireless software has been designed in reponse to application needs for both Bluetooth (essentially, providing smartphone control-compatibility) and Zigbee – widely adopted in mesh networking and control schemes.
By Peter Clarke


The software expands Zigbee mesh networking with Bluetooth Beaconing and direct connectivity through smartphone apps. The approach is described as “dynamic multiprotocol” that is, using a single radio, it time-slices sessions of Bluetooth and Zigbee signalling, enabling communication with both standards. Relying in part on the inherent robustness of the Zigbee protocol, with its short packets and ability to re-try messages: and the deterministic aspects of Bluetooth, Silicon Labs says it has extensively verified that real-world connection scenarios maintain connectivity without problems.


A key factor, the company adds, is that all of the work at the protocol level has been done and embedded in its software, simplifying the task for the designer. The software runs on its Wireless Gecko system-on-chip (SoC) and module portfolio, “enabling simultaneous operation of Zigbee and Bluetooth low energy (LE) on a single SoC and bringing together the key application benefits of both protocols.” Compared to a two-chip architecture, a wireless subsystem bill-of-materials (BOM) cost and size can be reduced by up to 40%.


Dynamic multiprotocol software allows users to commission, update, control and monitor Zigbee mesh networks directly over Bluetooth with smartphone apps. The software also makes it easier to deploy scalable indoor location-based service infrastructure by extending Zigbee-based connected lighting and building automation systems with Bluetooth beacons. By adding Bluetooth LE features to Zigbee mesh networks, developers can create next-generation IoT applications that are easier to deploy, use and update. Over-the-air (OTA) updates are supported.


Examples of applications that benefit from Silicon Labs’ multiprotocol software include:

• Smart Lighting – In residential lighting, consumers can use smartphone apps to simplify device installation/setup. Commercial lighting systems based on Zigbee can be extended to transmit Bluetooth beacons to enable indoor location services or asset tracking. Installers and maintenance teams can commission Zigbee devices, update software or perform diagnostics on a specific device via a Bluetooth smartphone or tablet. End users can use smartphones to control a group of lights and receive beacons to assist with indoor navigation.

• Smart Home – IoT products can connect to popular home automation platforms and voice assistants that support Zigbee while also supporting direct connectivity to smartphones for simple setup and local control and monitoring. A connected door lock can be remotely accessed via the mesh network and unlocked locally via a smartphone app. Bluetooth beacons that include location can be used to enhance smartphone apps and provide additional context for automation applications.

• Smart Building – Commercial building automation systems powered by Zigbee can be extended, enabling employee interaction using Bluetooth enabled smartphones, tablets or smart tags. For example, connected HVAC systems can automatically adjust based on occupancy or user preferences set in employee profiles. Multiprotocol wireless technology simplifies the implementation of beacon infrastructure and transforms buildings into connected, intelligent spaces.


Silicon Labs’ dynamic multiprotocol software comprises optimized wireless protocol stacks and an advanced radio scheduler running on Micrium OS. (Silicon Labs acquired Micrium in 2016. ) The software development kit (SDK) is available in Simplicity Studio and includes a connected lighting demo supported on selected Wireless Gecko starter kits and mobile app reference designs.


The multiprotocol software is available now to designers using Silicon Labs’ EFR32MG12 and EFR32MG13 Wireless Gecko SoCs and associated modules.


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